Here’s an example of State capture – the government’s infrastructure plans are not going ahead because the banks won’t invest their planned share unless government underwrites the costs. Only £700m has been raised so far towards an interim target of £2bn. The final aim is a far off £20bn. This is what happens when a state government tries to initiate a national infrastructure plan financed by internationally-run banks. Cities and regions will wait in vain for this to come to fruition – and are better looking to their own past than for London’s help. The good news is there are signs of this happening.
On Teeside, for example, where revival is being re-based on the area’s industrial heritage. Re-industrialization is gathering pace in the energy and manufacturing sectors, with the world’s largest energy from waste plant (I know – a questionably green industry), the construction of a biomass power station and the resumption of steelmaking at Redcar. Meanwhile three government back-office functions are down sizing and DirectLine is closing one of the ubiquitous business park call centres that came to characterise the economic future, post-80s industrial meltdown, for much of the north-east. With rents lower, engineers are moving back in. Teeside is marketing itself worldwide on what it’s historically been good at – only now the activity is more about creativity and design skills in wind farm and marine engineering, According to a local economic development specialist “you have to build on the strengths you’ve got”.
Two other examples from this week – in Scotland attention turns to town centre re-development with Malcolm Fraser, head of the country’s Town Centres Review saying that “we’ve had 60 or 70 years of believing that driving yourself around in a metal box from suburb to business park to out of town shopping centre represented the brave new future for our built environment. But it disconnects you from the world. And then we spend our holidays going to places where we feel the community and the richness and where we are able to walk to the park or the beach.” His fund has focused on conserving buildings within town centres, such as Kilmarnock. I’m not sure what the beach is like in Kilmarnock, but this is spot on – especially since the strategy looks to be evolving into one that doesn’t just focus on doing up buildings, but on moving in enterprises that can respond imaginatively to local economic and social needs.
Maybe they need a FARM:shop? Final example for the week is this urban food ‘Hub’, cafe and arts venue complete with mini ‘aquaponic’ fish farm, rooftop chicken coops, indoor allotments and a polytunnel.
All grand ideas, on different scales. For sure, not enough will happen without some public-private planning. But that is far better done in Middlesbrough, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Shoreditch than from Westminster. They don’t need a National Infrastructure Plan – but a share of the government resources, captured by London, to spend for themselves.